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Beat's view on the responsibility of the fashion industry

Raising awareness about eating disorders often means warning the public about potential triggers. Specific references to calorie intake, body weight or certain eating disorder behaviour, for example, can be potentially dangerous in encouraging sufferers to follow a similar path.  

Images can also be dangerous. Pictures of thin bodies or body parts, like ribcages or exposed shoulder blades, can negatively affect people who suffer from an eating disorder.

For those affected by such complex mental illnesses, these images can present an idealised body type that can encourage them to continue or worsen their disordered eating.

Regretfully some of the images presented by the fashion industry can promote a very limited picture of the ideal body type.

The one promoted by Victoria Beckham on social media is undoubtedly representative of a thin ideal.

Those ideals, in particular the ultra-skinny and thin model, female or male, can exacerbate and prolong some people’s illnesses and at Beat we continue to encourage the promotion of images that promote the full range of health body types. 

By listening to many eating disorders sufferers and carers through the years we know that lots of people with eating disorders will also suffer from low body image and poor self-esteem.

Blaming the fashion industry for causing eating disorders would mean over-simplifying the issue; in fact, eating disorders can be caused by genetic, psychological, environmental, social and biological factors.

However, it is important to recognise the impact that seeing unrealistic body images can have on sufferers. For this reason, we invite anyone who feels affected by them to contact our Helpline and support services which operate all year round.

Over 1.25 million men and women in the UK are affected by eating disorders but it would be dangerous to assume a person did or didn’t have an eating disorder based solely on whether they look “underweight”, “overweight”, or “normal”.

Eating disorders are very complex mental health illnesses and you cannot necessarily “see” them. 

Like all mental health conditions eating disorders are treatable and full recovery is possible. The sooner someone gets the care and support they need, the more likely they are to make a full recovery.

Our most recent research has found that people with eating disorders face a three-and-a-half-year delay between falling ill and starting treatment. In fact, it takes sufferers over 18 months to realise they have an eating disorder and over a year following this before they seek help.

These findings are very concerning for us as it is crucial that people are treated as quickly as possible to improve their chances of a quick and sustained recovery.

The Government must do more to encourage people to seek help as soon as possible. At the same time, to mark this years Eating Disorder Awareness Week (26 February – 4 March) we will be launching a new campaign to raise awareness about how to spot the signs of an eating disorder.

We are inviting all industries to join forces to raise awareness of eating disorders and encourage understanding and compassion towards those affected. Everyone can participate raising funds, taking part in surveys or petitions, or simply sharing our posts on social media.

We need more people talking about eating disorders, to tackle stigma and misunderstanding, and to help sufferers understand that they’re not alone.